Savage: The Battle for Newerth Review

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Graphics: 7.5
Sound : 7.0
Gameplay : 9.0
Multiplayer : 7.5
Overall : 7.8
Review by Matthew “Monkfish” Burrell
The online gaming world as of late seems to be catering in a large part to one of two types of gamers; fans of RTS games and Shooters fanatics. Of course there are also MMORPGs, but games like the Quake and Unreal series, as well as Warcraft, the Command and Conquers series, and Ensemble’s Age of whatever series, have made it clear that these are two very popular genres. Unfortunately a lot of RTS fans enjoy the strategy aspects of the game too much to really get into a shooter/melee combat game and vice versa. While there were plenty of fans who’d play either, there was no game that really brought these two groups together... Until now that is.



Savage is the latest offering from S2Games/iGames and it ambitiously sets out to create a new genre of gaming known as the Real Time Strategy Shooter (RTSS). The goal was to create a game that fans of both genres will be able to play together and possibly even introduce some of the stubborn fan of a particular genre to the fun that another genre has to offer. So did they succeed? Well in some ways yes, in other ways... Sort of. Interested? You should be. Read on for the details.

Gameplay:

Where do you start with a game like this? Well, it’s really two games in one. There’s one mode where you take the role of commander and an entirely different mode in which you can play as a warrior. While both exist at once and participate in the same game, it’s up to you to choose which role you’re in the mood to play.



If you decide to take on the role of warrior, you will essentially be playing the role of an offensive ground unit in either 1st or 3rd person perspective, depending on the weaponry. As a warrior your main focus is on direct combat and working with other warriors to accomplish specific goals. Unlike the FFA modes of Quake and Unreal, this game requires some serious teamwork if you want to be effective. It’s all too easy for the loner who thinks he’s Rambo to have his butt handed to him by a pack of enemy warriors. However, it’s quite satisfying to find yourself in the middle of a group who understand that sticking together gets things done.

While in most shooters, it’s all about the kills or simply capturing the flag a certain number of times, in Savage, you act more as a basic unit in a RTS would. While frags are always a good thing, the primary focus is more on capturing key spawn points, helping you commander secure resources locations and expansion points, and trying to interrupt the opponents progress by cutting off the supply chain or taking out essential buildings. Fans of RTS games will really enjoy this mode more than they might imagine. At times you’ll find yourself applying a bit more personality to those hundreds of thousands of peons and other units you’ve sent out in other RTS games. While a standard RTS game is based strictly on formulas and numbers representing terrain advantages, armor, weapons, number of troops and their health points etc, in Savage, there is the new factor of player skill to consider. While the stats and unit strengths or weaknesses certainly play a role in the outcomes of match ups, a truly skilled player can survive and even cause some major damage despite being outmatched as far as numbers go.



There are two main races to choose from, humans and beasts, each offering five different types of troops for shooter fans to choose from. The units fall into two categories, warriors and siege weaponry. There are three levels of warriors for both races, each ascending in stats such as damage and health points. The siege units also ascend in strength, but unlike the warrior units, the human and beast version of siege vary greatly and offer several advantages and disadvantages. While the human equivalents (the ballista and catapults) are much stronger and seem to fire more quickly, they are also wheeled units that cannot strife. However, while the beast units (the summoner and the behemoth) are able to move the same as any other unit, they are much slower and take longer to “reload”. However I have to say it’s pretty cool to see when the behemoths (which are the 40 foot tall “descendants of elephants” who use an uprooted tree as a bat) come around a corner surrounded by their tiny teammates trying to help it slowly make its way to its target. Of course when you first begin, only weak, basic warrior units are available. It’s up to your commander to get the buildings and resources necessary to research these creatures, which bring us to the other mode of play.

Everyone knows what makes up the core of a RTS game. It’s all about the resource gathering and management, the technological advancements, the balance of aggressive expansion with the need for a strong defense, and most of all it’s about knowing what you and when you need it. The same principles hold true for the RTS aspects of Savage. Each team has one commander and it’s their responsibility to manage these aspects of game play. This is by far the more difficult of the two modes to learn, especially given that the game is entirely an online experience. This means there is no single player mode or tutorials to give you a chance to practice or get a feel for the role of commander before you take command of real people. This can lead to some serious bashing from the warriors for a newbie commander. However, those who decide to stick with it and ignore the barrage of gripes and insults will ultimately find it very rewarding and satisfying to lead your team to victory. While compliments are not as freely given as insults, when you get one, you’ll know you deserve it.


As commander, you are the only one on your team who can issue orders to build, decide what techs to research, and ultimately it’ll be you who takes most of the blame when you and your team blow it. The troops will depend on your for orders as well as the technological upgrades that grant them new weaponry, special items, and stronger units. You will start from scratch with a home base that you must keep standing. You’ll need to quickly produce additional workers (up to ten) and give orders to get things going. New buildings and the appropriate resources will allow you to advance through your tech trees and supply the necessary upgrade to your troops.

While any troop can be issued orders such as move here, build this, repair that, or protect this unit, not all players are fond of being used as peons and often many will simply ignore your requests. This can be frustrating, but fortunately most players have the sense to do what best for the team, especially since as commander, you can usually see things the individual units are unaware of, such as what is directly behind them.

As in the standard RTS game, there is a “fog of war” effect on the field enabling you to see only what is within your units’ range of visibility. For the humans, there is an upgrade that allows sensors to act as watch towers in vacant areas, but again you are entirely dependent on someone to place the sensors for you after you make them available. Yet another example of how important teamwork and coordination between team members is in this game.


While both modes of play are very strong and quite fun once you become familiar with them, there are of course some drawbacks to this combination of genres. As with anything, when you focus solely on creating or learning one thing, it’s easier to master it. However, S2Games has presented something that is not truly an RTS or Shooter game, so if you hold the individual parts of the whole up to examination, neither will seem as solid as games that are dedicated to one or the other. While most RTS game present at least 3 unique races (and often as many as 15 or 16) to choose from, there are only the two options in Savage. While as a commander, you will initially have enough to worry about trying to learn strategies for the two races, after you become comfortable with the tech trees and strategies for both, you will soon begin to wish you had more to choose from and find yourself thinking back to games like the Age series, where you could play until the next expansion pack came out and still not be completely familiar with all the available races.

While this is not nearly as big of deal for those playing as warriors, many of the shooter fans will occasionally find them selves frustrated at having to rely on someone else to provide them with the weapons they want, proper direction on the battle field, and the occasional requirement to forget about attacking and expanding long enough to help expand the base. It’s a familiar site to see warriors flaming and even voting to impeach their commanders because they feel they are unskilled or simply don’t approve of their methods. It’s important to note again that this is the first time a game like this has been attempted, and the positives of the project still outweigh any of these negative points.



Multiplayer:

Considering the game is completely played online, you’d actually expect there to be more options for game types than there are. The core of the game is to basically defend your base while trying to destroy the other team’s base. A sort of capture the flag bit. Unlike the Age series, you don’t have to destroy ever building on the field to claim victory, and unlike the standard shooters, ultimately the number of kills don’t matter. Unfortunately though, this is the only mode of play. It would be nice to see some other modes where perhaps there was a team frag limit or a goal concerning resource gathering, or maybe a mode which required you to hold a strategic outpost for a certain amount of time to claim victory. It’s understandable that the focus of the developers was primarily on combining the two modes of play into one, but I don’t think that necessarily means there is no room for some alternate modes of gameplay that are more biased towards one of the genres.

Another problem is that although it will take some time to get used to all the maps presented, after a bit, the set up of the maps can be memorized, leading to 'deja vu’ games that feel as if they’ve been played before. However, given the constantly rotating crop of players and strategies, things usually aren’t entirely predictable.



There are at least 40 servers up at all times as well, so finding a game to drop into is never a problem, no matter what time you feel like playing. Another interesting point is that the developers are not 'finished’ with the game. This means they are constantly playing and releasing patches to re-balance certain aspects of the gameplay in response to player’s comments and complaints. A good source has also informed us that there will even be a brand new unit released soon in an upcoming upgrade. The word is that this unit is unlike any other unit in the game, will require that the team work together to reap the benefits of it, and will ultimately force even veteran players to learn new strategies. This is a very interesting concept in that it could easily extend the replay of the game and could even present the possibility of new gameplay modes in the future. All this and a software development kit on the way as well. Who know what mods could spring up in the near future?

Graphics:

Savage uses the Silverback engine, which was specifically designed for this game to allow the RTS and FPS modes to be generated by the same 3D rendering process. This basically means that whether you are in shooter or command mode, the game still has a very solid and fluid feel. Essentially, the look of both modes match, which makes it easy for commanders to identify units and terrain details. While the graphics aren’t ground breaking, they are solid and pleasing. Textures and models mesh well with each other and atmospheric effects such as sunlight and distance haze are generated nicely. The matches are limited to an hour by default (although this can be extended) and over the course of this hour, the day will age from morning to night and then back to daylight again. This is not only pretty to look at, but actually can alter strategy and gameplay slightly in that some troops blend into the shadows of night quite nicely. While games like Unreal2, Quake 3, and the upcoming Half Life 2 are pushing graphics far beyond what is presented in Savage, the game can easily hold it’s own against most 3D RTS games like Age of Mythology.



Sound:

The sound effects and stereo work in the game are also nothing groundbreaking, but are still quite nicely done. The sounds of the weapons easily identify what is being shot at you and the stereo balancing makes it easy to figure out where it came from. Again nothing mind blowing, but yet still very important for the shooter aspects of the game. There is also an extensive library of voice commands that make direction and communication much easier in the heat of battle. The music is unfortunately a bit more disappointing. While there is nothing particularly wrong about the music, there is nothing especially right about it either. The instruments are obviously digitally sampled and synthetic, and while the compositions are appropriately ambient, they are boringly plain as well. At times the music will swap to an exciting pounding fanfare to accent a battle somewhere on the field, but considering you cannot always see exactly what triggered this change, it can seem a bit off in places. Of course this is all very minor, but yet still worth noting.



Conclusion::

The guys at S2Games had an obvious but yet very ambitious concept with Savage. Just as with popular music, some of the most interesting products come from hybrid mixtures of styles you might never think would work together. While there is still room for improvement in the concept and execution of this hybridization of Shooters and RTS games, you have to give respect to for S2Games for taking on such a project with no predecessors to learn from. After all when we first played Wolfenstein, most of us could have never predicted it would evolve into something like Counter Strike or Half Life. This is a game that could bring a RTS fan to find the fun in the Shooter mode or vice versa. Even if players find that they ultimately still aren’t interested in the aspects of the other genre, it brings the two together in a way that satisfies both. The game shows incredible potential and considering the developers commitment to continue fine tuning it, this is surely a title to keep an eye on. With the demo recently made available for online play, there’s really no reason not to give it a shot. While it may or may not ultimately be a smash success, I have a feeling in a few years gamers may look back to see what an influential and groundbreaking game it really was.